vol 29 no 1, 2009
Art and time have much in common including the fact that they are both very hard to pin down. Art seems to have the ability to freeze or stretch time; it is a medium for imagining future scenarios and retrieving the past. Philosophical notions of time such as the non-specific dimension of Aboriginal Dreamtime are explored by Ian McLean and teleportation by Melentie Pandilowski. In a special section commissioned by Ben Eltham, authors investigate microtime, deep time, duration itself as a subject of art, together with things that decay over time or relate to memory or death. Ulanda Blair surveys the Yokohama Triennial and its theme Time Crevasse. A major essay by Laurence Simmons places the moving image 'time slice' work of Daniel Crooks in the context of the 19th Century science which first captured movement on film. Adrian Martin explores the parallel careers of filmmakers Victor Erice (Spain) and Abbas Kiarostami (Iran). Other features include Stephanie Radok on the currency of Aboriginal art, Djon Mundine on ethical dilemmas for prize judges and curators and Lucas Ihlein on Donald Brook's new book The Awful Truth about What Art Is.
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Sara Maher Breathing hole (Impression of studio wall) 2008, ink and pigment on paper, 180 x 114cm. Photo: Les Allester.
I was captivated by Sara Maher's exhibition 'Passage'. This focused collection of more than thirty images was developed over two years, initiated by a three month Arts Tasmania residency on Maria Island in 2006. The exhibition revealed an intense working period that drew directly from the solitary experience of living remotely and working as an artist.
While on the island, the combination of remnant buildings, isolation, and the island geography led Maher to explore the notion of 'walls as boundaries to be traversed'. She began by making rubbings of the worn brick surfaces of the convict ruins. At the same time, she stencilled or drew found items and natural forms integral to the location such as a ladder, a chair, an iron bed, a window frame, a table, a wallaby, bones, sticks, pebbles, the moon, the stars and the sea. An informal catalogue of images developed which informed her work for the following two years.
Returning to Hobart, she launched into an intense body of work. Unable to let go of Maria Island, Maher revisited numerous times, often developing the first layers of the work in her house and studio and then drew into them 'in situ', and vice versa. The underlayers of all works in 'Passage' are facsimiles of walls familiar to the artist (her house and studio, the shack she inhabited on the island, and brick ruins from Maria Island, the Tasman Peninsula, and around Hobart). While some walls have been captured as charcoal rubbings, many works were created by saturating sheets of paper in pigment, pressing or adhering them to the wall and peeling them away.
Maher then worked into these impressions. The fragile lines of the images drawn from the island and related experiences contrast dramatically with the layers beneath which were sometimes applied so heavily that the artist imagined she was 'rubbing her way through' or 'rubbing a porthole through the paper'. The works in 'Passage' stem from this contradictory process of creating a wall only to bring about its demise, a method likened by the artist to establishing a physical boundary (such as the island residency or studio) and then pushing that boundary to its conceptual limit.
When speaking about the time spent working towards 'Passage', Maher mentioned that there were moments when she felt imprisoned and overwhelmed by the intensity of engaging with a place for an extended period. This sense is embodied in 'Breathing holes' (2008) by the black rubbed vent of a convict solitary confinement cell, or in the small circle cut out at mouth-height in the subsequent work 'Breathing hole' (2008). Recurring references to ladders, windows, portholes and the tiny modelled raft in 'Adrift' also communicate thoughts of escape. As do the deliberate allusions to the vastness of sea and sky in 'Hum note', 'Adrift', 'Untitled', and 'Portholes', incongruously achieved by committing the texture of a wall to paper.
Collectively, the works in 'Passage' are a gritty personal record of the effect of isolation, expressed as a succinct orchestration of fact (evidence of a place as it is captured in a rubbing) and varying levels of imagination (the artist's drawn interpretations). The images are raw in honesty, and one senses their creation has been a compulsive, necessary process for the artist. As she occupied Maria Island, it is evident that Maher became completely absorbed, unable to untangle herself from the island at the end of the residency. The exhibition is testament to the artist's focus and ability to realise an uneasy, contemporary and compelling response to wilderness and history by bringing it into the personal realm of her present.
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Articles in this issue
- Artrave: Artrave
- Book review: Brook's way with kinds, categories and memes
- Editorial: Editorial
- Feature: About visual imagery, intuition, and teleportation
- Feature: Conference of the birds, the trees, the waves, Correspondences: Victor Erice and Abbas Kiarostami
- Feature: Daniel Crooks: the future of the past
- Feature: dreamTime
- Feature: Introduction to ten essays commissioned by Ben Eltham
- Feature: Joe Felber: Moments of time
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Art and the abyss: Manipulations of time at the 2008 Yokohama Triennale
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Atomic Clock: microtime of the molecular and good old-fashioned molar beer
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Crystalline signs of the small and poetic
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Enduring duration
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Ghost in the backyard
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Life and times: Eternal wake in three chapters
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: OK with my decay: Encounters with chronology
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: On talking walls
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Planning for deep time: Nuclear monuments and Aboriginal art
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Time and motion studies: Twin strategies
- Polemic: Keep your eyes on the prize: Hold on, Aboriginal art competitions, ethical dilemmas and mining companies
- Polemic: The ethnographic present: Aboriginal art today - the gift that keeps on giving
- Preview: Avoiding myth and message: Australian artists and the literary world
- Preview: Jeffrey Smart: The question of portraiture
- Review: Better Places
- Review: Contemporary Australia: Optimism
- Review: Discord: Art from MONA
- Review: Girls, Girls, Girls
- Review: Gooch's Utopia: collected works from the Central Desert
- Review: Lockhart River 'Old Girls'
- Review: Open Air: Portraits in the landscape
- Review: Passage
- Review: Patricia Piccinini: Related Individuals
- Review: Rosalie Gascoigne
- Review: Silver Artrage 25
- Review: The Christmas Tree Bucket: Trent Parke's Family Album
- Review: Trades